Sometimes, Google is just a bit too good at carrying out its stated goal to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Take search suggestions, the helpful feature that sees Google autocomplete phrases typed into its search engine. Type “How can I cook macaroni …” and the site will add “cheese” on to the end, saving you six whole keystrokes. Wonderful!
But it turns out there could be some less desirable implementations of the technology. The search-suggestion feature, and a similar feature that offers “related searches” at the bottom of the results page, could be helping to compromise the right to anonymity of complainants in UK rape and sexual assault cases. Type in the defendant’s name with a little extra information and the search engine may suggest related searches that include the victim’s name. It’s not the first time that Google, or one of its competitors in big tech, has been caught out after handing control to AI-driven, crowdsourced suggestions.
In 2016, Google was slammed for its search suggestion and related searches proposing hateful material. “Are Muslims …” offered up: “Are Muslims bad”. One search for that, and the next suggested search proposed simply: “Islam must be destroyed”.
In February this year, the company faced similar criticism: “Hitler is …” led to “my hero”; even hyper-sanitised results, such as “Blacks are …” – which has been manually scrubbed of…